Is This the New Hunger Games?

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divergent veronica roth

Everyone’s looking for a book that’s as addictive and absorbing as Hunger Games, and lots of people are choosing Veronica Roth’s Divergent, a story about set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, for their next fiction fix.

But, being a cautious (and, frankly, fairly judgmental) person, I was skeptical. The plot (several districts try to maintain a shaky peace after widespread societal collapse, and teenagers are forced to make life-altering choices while falling in love with each other and shooting at people) seemed more than divergent; it seemed derivative.

But, like a recruit to Divergent’s Dauntless district, I was fearless and took the plunge anyway. (I might be overstating my bravery slightly, since those guys jump out of moving trains, and I just picked up a book. But whatever.) And I’m glad I did.

The districts of Divergent are organized according to virtues that help a good government run: Candor prizes truth, Erudite favors knowledge, Dauntless strives for fearlessness. When citizens turn 16, they’re given aptitude tests to see which district would most suit their characters. If they leave the district they were born into, they’re unlikely to see their families again.

And that’s when it gets interesting. After the results are in, the teens get a choice — go with the district that suits them best, or stay with their home district. I love that this book encourages readers to think about what’s most important in their lives: individuality, community, or family.

I also liked that Roth took chances with her main character, Beatrice, that Suzanne Collins never took with Katniss, who was let out of some of the toughest decisions of the Games. (Spoiler-filled examples: Would Katniss have killed Peeta if the Gamemakers hadn’t ever introduced the rule change? What would she have done if only she and Rue, or she and Rue and Peeta, were left at the end of the games?)

Beatrice (or Tris, as she’s called for most of the book) has to face these same problems. But, unlike Katniss, she isn’t saved by convenient plot twists. She has to make really difficult choices, and sometimes the virtuous path isn’t obvious, or even possible. She makes hard decisions, and she’s forced to live with the results.

The bottom line? Just because two books have similar plot and character elements doesn’t mean one’s a copycat. Both Hunger Games and Divergent have important stories to share, and both Collins and Roth tell them well. If you loved Hunger Games, I have no doubt you’ll like Divergent (you might even like it more). And you won’t have to wait long for the sequel — Insurgentcomes out May 1, and we’ll carry it at Church Street.

Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

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